Overtime: College Football Does It Better

Over the past few years, the NFL has made sweeping changes to all phases of the game, including extra points, kick-off returns, and helmet to helmet hitting. In a time which encourages updating and improving the rules of the games, modifying overtime procedure is undoubtedly the next step.

The current system employed by the NFL is archaic at best. In terms of time, fifteen minutes are added to the clock, but the skewed rules that depend on the coin toss are the center of the issue. Just as the beginning of the game, a coin is flipped at the start, and after the winner and loser of the flip elect to do, the ball is then kicked off just as the start of the game. However, the game then enters a biased format. If the first team to receive the ball scores a touchdown, they win the game, no questions asked. If they score a field goal, the other team is given a chance to receive the ball, where they must either match the field goal to continue the game, or score a touchdown to win the game. Otherwise, the game is over. If after the fifteen minute quarter runs out, the game score is still a deadlock, it ends in a tie.

This system has a multitude of flaws. First off, it leaves too much to the random coin flip. The winner of the flip is directly at a major, artificial advantage. The winner of the toss will always elect to receive the ball, allowing them the chance to win the game outright. The fallacy comes in that the opposing team does not even see the field if the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown. This can be seen most notably and recently in the case of Super Bowl LI. The Patriots won the coin toss, which allowed them to win the game outright, without ever even allowing the Falcon’s high-powered offense to see the field. Off the pure chance of the coin flip, the Patriots were allowed to avoid the strong point of the Falcon’s whole team in the closing time of the biggest sporting event in America. There is a good chance that had the flip gone the other way, the Falcons would have been the victors.

The game of football should be played and settled on the field, not left to the pure chance of a coin flip, especially in a high-stakes game such as the Super Bowl or any playoff games. As such, both team’s offense and defense should be allowed to see the field, giving both teams more of an equal chance to win.

The NFL would be much better suited to transition to an overtime format more like that of college football. In the NCAA overtime system, many of the pitfalls embedded in the NFL system are alleviated. After the coin flip, the winner can elect to either receive or defend the ball at their opponent’s 25 yard line, where they then play without a game clock until either of the offenses score. Then regardless of what happens on that drive, the opponent is given the chance to have the ball and either tie the game or go ahead. If the team does not match they lose; if they go ahead, they win. If at the end of these two drives, the score remains a tie, the game goes into a second overtime of the same format, but different order of who gets the ball first. After the second overtime teams are forced to attempt a two-point conversion after touchdowns as a way to keep the game from going on for an excessive amount of time.

This is far superior to the NFL’s system. It allows the game to truly be settled on the field, with the coin toss having much less effect on the outcome of the game. In this case, in Super Bowl LI, after the Patriots scored, the Falcon’s offense would have been given a chance to tie the game, or even win on a touch down and two-point conversion. This also would have forced the Patriots defense to see the field instead of just Tom Brady and the offense. A format similar to college football would be a much more fair system for both teams involved. It would also be a better indicator of which team really is better, as it would force a team to be sound on both sides of the ball when the game matters most.

By Zach Petr                                                    Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson-Associated Press

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